Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Batteries and Cutting Trees

Chain saws are powered by batteries. This is a technology transition that is sure to surprise more than a few people. Chain saws cut through trees, so they need a lot of power, and for most of the history of the technology, they have been driven by internal combustion engines that burn gasoline. Battery-powered chain saws have been around for a few years, but as curiosities, not quite powerful enough for the ordinary user. As of last fall, if you went to a store to look for a chain saw, you would probably see two or three battery-powered chain saws off to the side, and you would probably wonder who used them.

This year, though, the battery-powered chain saws are in the middle of the display and account for more than half of unit sales. Incremental improvements in design give battery-powered chain saws the same cutting power as the average gasoline-powered chain saw, and the battery-powered units are quieter, easier to use, and a little less expensive.

You knew batteries were improving if you noticed longer battery life in your phone or increased range in your electric car. Apparently the improvements suddenly reached the point where gasoline can no longer hold its ground as a power source for chain saws.

That is not to say that gasoline-powered chain saws are about to disappear. Serious tree workers and emergency responders couldn’t even consider a tool that makes you plug it in to recharge after just a few minutes of cutting. But obviously, a far greater number of chain saws are sold to homeowners and facility managers who never have multiple trees to cut down all at once. Also, chain saws are durable, so it will take years for the new designs on store shelves to predominate in actual use. Still, it’s clear that the era of battery-powered chain saws has arrived.